A professional wrestling management and booking simulator. That is a real sentence, and Extreme Warfare Revenge is a real game.
In retro gaming, the standards are always celebrated. Mario, Zelda, Mega Man, Sonic, Crash – these are quintessential to retro to the point where you might be mistaken for thinking these were the only old games to ever come out, considering how much the internet likes to harp about them. It’s a shame, because while these games are bright beacons, the light is so blinding that it’s easy to forget games that were released around it, and as such, sadly, those games fade into the past, fade into footnotes in the history books. I don’t mean “forgotten gems” like EarthBound that everyone actually knows, I mean games that most people have truly stopped caring about, like Extreme Warfare Revenge.
“What the hell is this game?” you shout in disgust. Basically (hold on to your hats) it’s a professional wrestling booking management sim released in 2003 coded in Visual Basic, meaning it’s entirely devoid of any graphics and is essentially like playing with Microsoft Excel. Before you readers scoff and raise up your hands to say “that’s not a game”, remember that Football Manager and their ilk are “spreadsheet sims” and let’s not forget how furiously addictive those games are. So, can similar results be yielded when we transplant the formula away from the pitch onto the squared circle? Let’s find out.
Extreme Warfare Revenge is heavy on buttons and menus, so it’s unlikely to win any awards for graphical quality. This makes the already-obscure concept kind of dense, which might repel new players, especially those who aren’t interested in mangrapple, but keep going. You become the booker of any wrestling company of your choice – you can play as WWE, TNA, ROH, CZW, any of the little indies that existed at the time of this game’s release in 2003, or you can start your own. What “booking” entails is signing wrestlers, scoping new talent, making matches for shows, building up feuds, creating exciting characters, and managing the finances, while listening to what the fans want (or don’t want) and giving it to them for the biggest returns at the box office so your empire can flourish. If you play as a big company, you can book the existing stars the way you’ve always wanted to – if you wanted to give Matt Hardy the world title push he always deserved, you can do it; likewise, if you’ve ever wanted to put Undertaker in a blood feud with 2003 CM Punk. The (wrestling) world is yours.
Of course, you could always start as a smaller company and work your way up, but that comes with more pitfalls – as you’re not as big, stars will be unwilling to sign written contracts, working on verbal deals, meaning the big boys are more likely to snatch them up. Wrestlers with open deals are also likely to flit off to Japan for month-long tours which could kill off your long-term booking plans. Plus, you’re working off a budget, so it’ll be harder to sign the guys you really need – although, workers who are too popular for your company will flat-out refuse to sign anyhow. As expected, and pleasingly so, helming different companies will yield different kinds of playthroughs, which speaks to the depth of the game, but the real joy of it is how it allows you to let your imagination run wild. There are no games as good-looking as a text adventure, and Extreme Warfare Revenge plays off this thinking – even though it’s all menus and stats, it comes alive as a place for your stories and characters to become real. This makes the game so ungodly engaging – you’ll forever want to play just one more month, one more show, just to make your company or your next big show a little bit better – and you can always craft a better feud. This addiction will keep you coming back for more every time.
Real effort has been put in to make the wrestling world of the game more in-tune with reality. The game boasts an in-game internet which allows you to look at five fictional websites; some are inspired by the “dirtsheets” of old, some feature legitimate wrestling news you should pay attention to, and some have vital information that you can use against competitors. You’re also able to hold meetings with your staff, and they’ll tell you who’s medically cleared, who’s the next top guy you should push, and who just isn’t connecting. If you excel at your job, other owners will come to you asking for help – these are just little touches, but just as the little things make life, the little details make Extreme Warfare Revenge that much more engrossing.
However, you might be thinking, “Isn’t a game made in 2003 ridiculously out of date? Wrestlers then were crackheads and debutants, and half of them work for WWE.” The creator of this game, Adam Ryland, had amazing scope for the future – EWR comes with a robust data editor, meaning you can edit the game to your heart’s content, making it more (or less) accurate and up-to-date as you please. Not that you’ll need to, as EWR communities have stayed alive long after the game’s release, and dedicated modders have created data packs for different eras, be they current or historic. If you want to bring back ECW from the brink of death in 2000, or make sure WCW win the Monday Night Wars, it’s all doable. This is the best part of this game: how malleable it is and how it allows you to do a great deal of what you imagine – as such, EWR is less a game and more a platform for your imagination, but it does come with its limits.
If you will indulge the reviewer for a moment to talk about professional wrestling: this part is essential for understanding one of the game’s greatest shortcomings. Wrestling feuds and storylines are furthered by what bookers and writers call “angles” – single scenes, moments, or interviews that serve to further storylines. Matches can heat up a story but if you want to make it even more hot, you’d use an angle to create intrigue and provoke anger or excitement. For fringe fans: remember all that time Stone Cold and The Rock spent insulting each other, or when Mean Gene would interview Hulk Hogan. Those were angles. Right, with that said, you can imagine that anything could be an angle. Which is what makes it frustrating when you want to develop a story your way, and the choice of angles built into the game are extremely limited, normally boiling down to X attacking Y, or Y verbally destroying Z. Extreme Warfare Revenge is ultimately hurt by being such an old game, as it comes off as simple and limited to a modern audience. Indeed, once you have the run of managing the company and building feuds, the game gets easy. Not boring at all, because you’re weaving your own narrative and that’s the true excitement of the game, but because it’s so simple, you’ll never feel particularly challenged again. Ryland was aware of this and immediately after the release of EWR, he set to work on Total Extreme Wrestling, a more sophisticated and complex wrestling management sim. The problem is, unless you commit thousands of hours, TEW is much too difficult to get to grips with, meaning players are stuck with the more facile EWR. Again, EWR is no bad game, but it’s shown its age to the extreme at this point.
Yet, one pretty big saving grace is the fact that, since its release to now, Extreme Warfare Revenge has remained completely free. Not ad-supported, either, clean and doesn’t cost a penny. “Free” is something that many people can’t argue with at the best of times, but considering how powerful, immersive, and (simply) fun this game is; the price tag of £/$0.00 is just the sweet little cherry on top.
One thing that might come as a gripe to some players (but after a thousand hours spent, it’s inconsequential) is that in sound and graphics, Extreme Warfare Revenge is extremely sterile. Graphics are limited (but data and picture packs can provide requisite profile pictures for wrestlers), sound even more so; the only thing you’ll hear playing the game is the Windows warning beep. This is not initially a problem considering the nature of the game, but if you are so perturbed by the sound of silence, just jam on your favourite records and you’re good to go.
Initially, the concept might sound like it just doesn’t compute or blend, but Extreme Warfare Revenge is a happy accident on account of how well it works as an avenue to let all your fantasy booking ideas run wild. Or, even if you’re not a fantasy booker, book your backyard promotion to the top. The wrestling world is yours, and that’s what makes this game such an unexpected delight – you can do it your way, and for free.
Verdict: It’s unusual, but it works. Not unlike professional wrestling, then.